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What Does Trauma-Informed Leadership Look Like in Practice?

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Trauma-informed leadership is crucial if you want to accomplish trauma-informed change in your organization.

Here’s some expert advice on how you can become a trauma-informed leader.

1 Acknowledge that cultural change is just as important as technical change

When we talk about organizational change, our problem-solving brains are often focused on technical change. We ask, “What processes can we put in place to prevent this issue?” when we should be asking, “What cultural norms are contributing to this issue, and how can we shift?”

Trauma-informed leaders know that cultural changes are just as—if not more—important as technical changes.

Exploring all the nuanced differences between the technical versus the cultural is a bigger task than we can do here. But the good news is that we already covered how to create lasting change at work by understanding cultural shifts here.

2 Become a catalyst for cultural change through personal development

Trauma-informed leadership is a key piece of trauma-informed implementation because many organizational issues trickle down from leaders who exhibit toxic behaviors as the result of their trauma responses.

When we’re stuck in trauma brain, we cannot access our executive functioning skills. We become stuck in a trauma state where we cannot think about the future, be curious or open-minded, or see the bigger picture.

To get out of trauma brain and into executive functioning mode, we need to do some heavy lifting in our personal development.

Trauma-informed leaders know the science behind trauma, but they also utilize trauma-informed methods and skills in their everyday life to grow as an individual.

So, if you want to become a trauma-informed leader, you need to make a conscious decision to make your personal development a priority. When you do, you become a catalyst for cultural change in your organization.

If you like the sound of that, these 7 Tips for Creating Cultural Change at Work could be the next best step on your personal development journey.

3 Put in the work to create paradigm shifts

Cultural change is at the heart of trauma-informed work, and a major part of cultural change involves participating in paradigmatic shifts.

You can think of the current paradigm as “the way things are.” A paradigm is a group of collective beliefs, behaviors, and social norms. And, in modern America, our paradigms are toxic (if you haven’t already noticed).

We often fall into the trap of thinking work should be the only thing we care about in life or that our value is based on the quality of work we produce or how much money we make. We have toxic beliefs surrounding failure and criticism, and black-and-white thinking dominates our paradigm.

Well, trauma-informed leaders can identify the existing and desired paradigms, and then put in the work to shift the paradigm.

If you want to learn more about paradigm shifts, you can read up on it here.

4 Live trauma-informed values every day

It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I agree with these values. They seem great.” It’s another task to embody those values.

The Sanctuary 7 Commitments and SAMHSA’s 6 Guiding Principles are the building blocks of trauma-informed values. While we often encourage organizations to develop their own trauma-informed value systems, these are a great reference for trauma-informed leaders.

Trauma-informed leaders will embody these values each and every day. Have you heard the phrase how you do anything is how you do everything?

When you start to embed trauma-informed practices into your life, you'll be able to use this lens with everything you do, see, and experience.

We’ve provided some expert advice with 9 Ways to Embody Trauma-Informed Values for curious leaders.

5 Use ritualization as a trauma-informed tool

Ritualization is a useful trauma-informed tool to embed what we’re learning into our life. Through habits and routines, we can make trauma-informed practice second nature. We can live trauma-informed values without needing to make a conscious decision every time.

Ritualization is an extremely powerful tool to hold yourself and your teams accountable throughout the trauma-informed implementation process.

Final Thoughts: Become a Trauma-Informed Leader Today

You don’t need a fancy certificate to call yourself a trauma-informed leader, but expert training and coaching can support you and your organization on your journey from trauma-aware to trauma-informed and beyond.

Schedule a free consultation with a trauma-informed specialist to learn more.


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